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Film / A Pearl in the Forest

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A Pearl in the Forest is a 2008 film from Mongolia. The Buryats were (and still are) an ethnic group living in southern Russia and northern Mongolia in the area around Lake Baikal. In The '30s Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin decreed the collectivization of agriculture, a change which brought untold suffering upon the peasant farmers of Russia. Many Buryats responded to collectivization, and to the violent purges that Stalin unleashed in 1937-38, by fleeing across the border to Mongolia.

Unfortunately for the Buryats, Mongolia was a satellite state of the Soviet Union. The film is set in 1937 and dramatizes the devastation that Stalinism brought to one Mongolian village. Markhaa is an ethnic Buryat and a member of the Mongolian military police. He has come back to his village to find and arrest Buryats from Russia who are hiding in Mongolian Buryat villages. While there, Markhaa sets his sights on Sendem, the prettiest girl in the village. She is pledged to her true love, Dugar, another villager. Unfortunately for Sendem, Dugar, and everyone else in the village, Markhaa doesn't care, and will stop at nothing to have Sendem.

For another Mongolian work that deals with the violent oppression of this era, see the novel The Green-Eyed Lama.


  • Book Ends: The first shot of the film is Markhaa's ominous jackboots, as he is leaving to return to his village. The last scene of the film opens with a closeup of another pair of jackboots, this time being worn by Dugar, who has come back home after seven years with the Soviets.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Dugar's ability to hand-carve intricate necklaces. After he's arrested by the Communists and is seemingly doomed to be executed, one of his jailers notices the necklace and asks if Dugar made it himself. The film ends with Dugar returning to his village, his craftsmanship presumably having saved his life.
  • Les Collaborateurs: Markhaa and his fellow State Sec police are ultimately stooges for Stalin. Markhaa is the worst example of this, since he's returned to his own village, bringing misery.
  • Day of the Jackboot: Literally, with actual jackboots. The first shot in the movie is Markhaa's boots, as he walks out of a door.
  • Defiled Forever: Sendem believes this about herself after her rape, saying that she can't see Dugar.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: After terrible suffering, Sendem is reunited with her son, and Dugar also makes his way back to the village, presumably to rejoin his family.
  • Empathy Doll Shot: Dugar realizes that other people are hiding in the forest when he finds an abandoned camp site, which consists of a metal bowl and one single child's boot.
  • The Fool: Sodnom, the village idiot, who grins constantly and gambols around with the village children. This protects him from Markhaa and the other police for a while, and eventually saves his life when one of the policemen can't bring himself to shoot poor grinning Sodnom.
  • I Did What I Had to Do / Just Following Orders: Markhaa says this to himself in a moment of self-doubt after he's pretty much annihilated his village.
  • Implacable Man: Markhaa is this, vowing after Sendem and Dugar have been missing for a year that he will not rest until he hunts them down. He eventually does find Dugar, but Sendem escapes.
  • In the Back: Markhaa receives a richly deserved knife in his back.
  • Obfuscating Disability: Sodnom is just pretending to be The Fool. A flashback shows his father advising him to act dumb to protect himself in dangerous times.
  • Orbital Shot: A variant. When a panicked, weeping Sendem breaks down in the forest after fleeing from Markhaa, the film includes a shot in which the actress and the camera were apparently rotated on a platform together, causing the forest to appear to whirl around her.
  • Orphan's Plot Trinket: The "pearl in the forest" is the hand-carved necklace that Dugar made for Sendem. A feverish Sendem winds up stumbling through the forest, leaving the necklace with her newborn infant. When she returns seven years later, she recognizes her son after seeing him wearing the necklace.
  • Pietà Plagiarism: One of the women in the village after Markhaa shoots her husband.
  • Scarpia Ultimatum: Markhaa, who arrested Sendem's father, demands sex with her in order to release him. He then proceeds to rape her without even waiting for an answer.
  • Spiteful Spit: The old man who initially brought Markhaa back to the village, after Markhaa has all the remaining men tied up.
  • State Sec: The military police that Markhaa belongs to, which enforce the will of Mongolian dictator Choibalsan, who is himself a pawn of Stalin. They are arresting and executing all Russian Buryats in Mongolia, as well as any locals who help them.
  • A Taste of the Lash: Markhaa whips poor Sendem after he figures out that she was the one who warned Dugar's parents that they would be arrested, allowing them to flee in the night.
  • Time Skip: The action picks up again after Sendem and Dugar have been hiding out in the forest for a year. Markhaa in the meantime has arrested every man in the village in his frustration.